Parents have been navigating teen moodiness and meltdowns since the creation of man. Generations of moms and dads have been plagued by the hormonal roller coaster of their teens’ mood swings and attitudes. No fun.
I am no exception.
Many of you have heard me share about navigating my adopted son’s severely volatile behaviors. It was our family’s brutal journey with him that led me to a life completely shattered and God rebuilding me into a completely different parent. For more about our story through adoption and special needs, start here.
However, it is not only my son who continually needs support with his meltdowns. Like generations of girls before her, my oldest daughter has morphed into a young lady with all of the teen moodiness and meltdowns.
Let me share a story with you.
Two nights ago, I took my girls out on a little date out for dinner. Of course, we all agreed on Mexican… chips and salsa are my jam!
The date was supposed to be just my middle daughter and me. However, at the last minute my oldest begged to join us. Middle graciously agreed that Big Sis could tag along on our date night.
Fast forward… we enjoyed our chips, salsa, queso, nachos and a burrito (yes! we shared)… we had a great time… silly convo… yep! It was a success…
Teen Moodiness to Meltdowns in 30 Seconds Flat
In what seemed like a thirty second window of time, my oldest daughter shifted. Her face changed… she was no longer laughing at my stories about how Aunty Jamie used to be obsessed with Davy Jones from The Monkees… Anyone else remember The Monkees on Nickelodeon after school?
“Hey, hey, we’re the Monkees!”
“Daydream believer and a homecoming queen…”
Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Nobody cares?
Ok… apparently my cousins, my sisters and I had strange taste in entertainment. We still had tons of fun.
Anyway, my girls had been asking questions about my life as a kid and we were having fun and laughing.
We were chomping down on our chips and salsa when she began complaining about “being full” and wanting me to drive her home.
I asked her what was wrong.
Classic teen meltdown response, “Nothing.”
Pushing her further, (I knew she wasn’t telling me the truth), she responded with, “I’m just tired.”
‘Oh! That’s how she is going to play it. Great!’ My frustration was beginning to creep up into my voice.
Teen Moodiness & Attitude? Or Something Else?
My initial reaction was to become a little P.O.ed at her.
‘Great! After she begged her little sister to jump in on our scheduled date night… she gets what she wanted…she got her yummy Mexican food and now she is done with us.’
Does anyone see what was happening with me? We will get back to that.
Let’s be real… teens do have a knack for being just a little ego-centric… I couldn’t be that off in my assessment of her new shift in “attitude”. Right?
In my own heart and mind, I began to feel sad and disappointed that this change in my oldest’s engagement in our light-hearted fun, could possibly ruin my middle daughter’s date night. As the adult I had to make a decision.
I could have just started laying into her about ruining her little sister’s date time and being a bit selfish… But I didn’t. Not this time.
In the past, I likely would have pointed out her self-centered motives and “mood” swing. Because my oldest errs on the side of taking too much responsibility for others’ reactions and responses, she would have likely shut down and apologized profusely before I finished even speaking.
Her typical response would have likely satisfied me. I mean, who doesn’t appreciate it when anyone takes responsibility for their actions? An apology would have been a satisfactory response, right?
Maybe… or I could have slammed a door on our relationship… even if just temporarily.
Fortunately, this is not how the interaction went down. Praise God!
By God’s mercy, all that I have learned over these past several years navigating my son, has taught me so much more than just how to handle a special needs toddler meltdown… I’ve learned how to navigate relational conflict. Period.
Teen Moodiness as Meltdowns
My daughter was having a meltdown. Yes, this was her version of a meltdown. I know what to do when one of my cubs has a meltdown.
No, it wasn’t a drop-down kicking and screaming meltdown that the whole restaurant was privy to… but it was my teenage daughter’s (lite) version of a meltdown.
I made a mental pivot from the perspective that told me she was being willfully selfish and could care less that her negative mood and sudden lack of engagement were putting a damper on our girls’ night out. I shifted the lens to view this sudden change as, “Something just happened. She had a thought or something just came to mind and she is responding. Let me investigate.
Four Steps to Resolve My Teen’s Meltdown
Step 1: Relationship
I looked directly at my girly and made eye contact.
Step 2: Provide Emotional Vocabulary & Reflect
“What happened, Sweet Girl? You went from happy and laughing to ‘shut down’. What are you thinking? You look like you are feeling sad.”
Step 3: Provide Physical Input
I rocked her in my arms like a baby…
Step 4: Shift Attention & Distract
I began pretending to her cell phone in a baby voice to make her laugh and distract her.
OK. OK. I didn’t have to work through steps 3 & 4… the first two steps opened up conversation between us all.
Her defensive wall of perceived teenage “moodiness” crumbled down almost immediately. My girl opened up to us.
“I just heard a song that reminded me of Grandma,” she managed to confess as she held back tears. My mom passed suddenly about 9 months ago and she has been struggling terribly with her grief.
My teen daughter’s sudden change of mood had nothing to do with selfishly “using” her sister and me for Mexican food. Her perceived “attitude” was actually sadness.
Had I engaged her through a more traditional lens which simply looks at outward socially unacceptable behaviors as problems to be eradicated, I would have blown it big time. I would have missed out on an opportunity to be my daughter’s safe place of refuge… to be her trusted ally who ultimately points her to Jesus.
Praise God that I didn’t jump to conclusions and praise God that I have learned so much through this journey with my son.
Meltdowns Don’t Cease Simply Because We Age
The reality is that we all have meltdowns… ALL.OF.US. Adults and children alike. Adults lose it all the time. Adult meltdowns simply “look” different from a teen meltdown.
When was the last time that you snapped at your child or hubby because you have reached the end of your rope?
There is no judgement in this. We are all just human beings living in a broken world. Meltdowns simply appear differently depending upon the variables. We will all have meltdowns likely until the day we die. However, there is incredible grace for us all.
Whether a toddler tantrum, an elementary-age explosion, or a teen meltdown or moodiness… let’s equip our children to work through the tough thoughts and big emotions that lead to meltdowns.
Then watch them smile and say, “Thank you, Mom.”
Just wanted to share…
Feel free to grab a free copy of the Behind the Behavior Intro Bundle and begin to reframe your relationship with your child… toddler to teen.